A 'rollercoaster ride' and 'never boring': Tributes paid to outgoing Wakefield Council leader at last meeting

Coun Box was presented with a gift from Wakefield mayor Charlie Keith at his final council meeting. Picture from Wakefield Council.
Coun Box was presented with a gift from Wakefield mayor Charlie Keith at his final council meeting. Picture from Wakefield Council.
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Tributes have been paid to the departing leader of Wakefield Council, who has given his final public address in the role.

Coun Peter Box is standing down from his position at the end of this month to take up the reins at troubled tourism agency Welcome to Yorkshire.

Coun Box was joined by colleagues for a reception after the meeting. Picture from Wakefield Council.

Coun Box was joined by colleagues for a reception after the meeting. Picture from Wakefield Council.

He has led Wakefield Council as the head of the ruling Labour group - a role he said on Wednesday he'd been "privileged" to hold - for 21 years.

His successor, long-serving deputy Denise Jeffery, told Coun Box's last full council meeting that working with him had been a "rollercoaster ride" and had never been "boring".

Referencing police probes into fraud claims at the authority when he took charge in 1998, she said: "When you took over, we were in a dark place. We were a failing council, we had public inquiries going against us and we were really down. We felt we wouldn't get out of that.

"Your strength of character has led us to being the excellent council we are today."

Coun Jeffery credited the outgoing leader for bringing big business to the Wakefield district, including Haribo, Xscape and Coca-Cola.

With a smile, she added: "I think Coca Cola ought to be grateful to you with your Coke habit - Diet Coke, I mean."

Coun Box was also praised for the opening of the Hepworth Gallery in 2011, which despite critics has raked in millions of pounds and drawn visitors from all over the world.

The mayor of Wakefield, Coun Charlie Keith, said that the leader had "commanded trust and respect" during his time in charge.

He added: "Whether in good times or bad, you've led this council calmly and professionally and with the people of this district uppermost in your thoughts.

"You've raised the profile of this city and this district. You've ensured it's got its fair share and it's had its voice heard."

The leader of the opposition Conservative group, Nadeem Ahmed, praised Coun Box for keeping the increasingly "toxic" nature of national politics out of the Wakefield Council chamber.

In response to the tributes, Coun Box quipped, "I've written myself a little note here to say I've not died - I am still here."

In his final address, he thanked council staff as well as wife Judith, before apologising to Tory councillors for his "fierce approach" in the council chamber, adding, "It was always political, never personal".

He also praised his constituents in the Altofts and Whitwood ward that he has represented since 1984, saying: "They stuck me through thick and thin."

Turning to Labour colleagues, he added: "It's been a privilege to lead you. I apologise for the times I got it wrong. I did my best.

"I wish each and every one of you all the very best."

Local Democracy Reporting Service